ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Jim Harbaugh’s ways seem to be working with his target audience.
Michigan’s football coach has starred in a rap video, traveled the country for youth camps, taken his team to Florida for spring break, traded barbs on Twitter and even had sleepovers with recruits.
He has done all of that — and much more — entering his second season with the Wolverines.
If generating buzz to attract recruits to help revive a storied program is Harbaugh’s aim, he’s hitting the mark.
Harbaugh is much more popular than Alabama coach Nick Saban among millennial males, according to The Q Scores Company, a New York-based company that measures the awareness and appeal of personalities. Furthermore, at least some data indicates that Harbaugh is on the verge of having his celebrity transcend the sports world with those same young men between the ages of 18 and 34.
“Harbaugh is making a significantly stronger impact than Saban among younger males, and that seems to be his objective,” Henry Schafer, executive vice president of The Q Scores Company, said in a telephone interview Friday. “And, Harbaugh is on the cusp of being an iconic figure among the general population in the same demographic.”
Nearly three-fourths of male sports fans between 18 and 34 are aware of Harbaugh. His Q Score is 25 among that group, meaning one out of four millennial males said he was a favorite of theirs in a survey done earlier this year. Saban is someone 68 percent of millennial males surveyed are familiar with, and his Q Score is 21 among them.
The Q Scores Company conducted its latest survey in February, just after Harbaugh slept at the houses of recruits and prior to him becoming the first college football coach — and perhaps the last — to take his team way off campus for spring drills in Florida. In June, the envelope-pushing coach barnstormed around the country for satellite camps that the NCAA banned after the SEC and ACC pushed for a proposal to do so only to have that decision rescinded.
“I don’t know about ‘Q ratings,’ but I do know that it was priceless to coach and teach 15 to 20,000 youngsters at those camps,” Harbaugh told The Associated Press, just before throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at a recent Chicago Cubs game. “Obviously, we didn’t do all those camps just for recruiting because all of those youngsters aren’t coming to Michigan. But they were all introduced to and learned more about the great game of football.”
Michigan was good, though not great, in Harbaugh’s first season leading his alma mater.
The Wolverines were 10-3, opening with a setback to Utah and losing later to Ohio State and Michigan State.
They are positioned for a successful start to this season, hosting the first five games, all of which they will likely be favored to win. They appear to have tougher tests in the back half of the schedule, including road games against the Buckeyes and Spartans, rivals who have had their way with the maize and blue in recent years.
If Harbaugh and the Wolverines don’t win more games this season and lose to both rivals again, his efforts to create buzz likely will fall flat. And he’ll still have five fewer national championships than Saban.
“Hype is just hype. It doesn’t mean anything,” Michigan wide receiver Jehu Chesson said. “You’ve got to beat your rivals, and we don’t shy away from that.”
Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh, that question when they were growing up, and “Nobody!” was the expected response.
Jack Harbaugh, who recently moved into a house “500 feet,” from his son’s house in Ann Arbor, said there is no disconnect between the perception and reality of Jim Harbaugh.
“Jim is who is he, and he doesn’t ever worry about the backlash,” said Jack Harbaugh. “He took his shirt off at a camp, and people are still talking about it a year later. They asked him to be in a rap video, and he had some fun with it. Some liked it. Others didn’t, and that doesn’t bother him.”
His current players and the ones he is recruiting, those in the aforementioned millennial group, seem to be fans of Jim Harbaugh’s unique style.
Harbaugh’s boss, Warde Manuel, doesn’t fit in the same demographic. However, Manuel also admires Harbaugh’s approach and is thankful his first season in charge of the athletic department will be Harbaugh’s second season on the sideline at the Big House.
“Having him back has meant a lot to the university, athletic department and Michigan football in ways that can be measured: wins, ticket sales and donations,” Manuel said. “And in many intangible ways, he has made people feel good around here and from afar about him and Michigan.”